HUNTSVILLE — A local artist who voluntarily paints portraits of missionaries who died while serving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than doubled his work in the past five months.
JR Johansen, 73, painted 20 portraits in October.
Now, with the help of others, he’s found more missionaries to paint and the portraits are being delivered all over the world.
“It has been a delightful project,” Johansen said. “I love making people happy and this is a happy thing.”
His missionary portraits are now being hand-delivered around the world thanks to former Liberty residents LaMar and Tami Creamer.
The Creamers’ son, Nic Creamer, is a pilot for SkyWest Airlines and has helped his parents arrange to deliver the portraits through privileges he has with the airlines.
The first one delivered was a portrait of Elder Aaron Patiole, which he took to Australia, LaMar Creamer said.
“When we got there, the look on the face of the family members and the closure it seemed to bring, made it all worthwhile,” LaMar Creamer said. “One brother in particular just spent an extended amount of time looking at the picture.”
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The family said the portrait perfectly captures the smile of their missionary, he said.
“All the time and effort involved in the deliveries was totally worth the look of peace that it brings to the faces of those who get them,” LaMar Creamer said.
Now, Johansen’s son, Kyle Johansen, has joined his effort by painting two missionaries in the collection.
“I told him he had to take over for me when I am done,” Johansen said.
So far, Kyle Johansen, a Layton seminary teacher who his father said is a natural artist, has painted two portraits for the collection.
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Johansen also now is receiving help from fellow Huntsville artist Steve Songer, who is purchasing some of the frames for the portraits, especially for those families who can’t afford one.
Cindy Thredgold, a woman who helps Johansen find deceased missionaries to paint, said his work has accomplished much good.
“I don’t call many people salt of the earth but he would be in that category,” Thredgold said. “It is quite healing for the families.”
Thredgold met Johansen when he put a portrait of her own deceased son in an art show in December of 2016. With her help, Johansen reached out to more families and held a gathering of families with their portraits last October.
The gathering was a healing opportunity, Thredgold said.
“Sure there were tears, but there weren’t angry parents,” Thredgold said. “This could be quite a touchy thing to have your missionary pass away but there was no negativity at the last meeting.”
Johansen also has found joy in his service. Usually, families will send a letter thanking him for his free gift.
“I can just tell it’s been a marvelous thing for them,” Johansen said. “It’s just sort of a divine blessing.”
With terminal health problems, Johansen said finding his calling has proved to be a blessing for him, too. He struggles with damaged lungs, heart and spirit from years of problems associated with his U.S. Army service in the Vietnam War.
There is something to be said about having a purpose in life, he said.
“This really has been an enjoyable thing for me. I look forward to every day. It’s just been a great, great, great thing.” Johnansen is hoping for help in finding even more families whom he can gift with a portrait of their lost missionary.
He hopes to have another gathering in October of families who have received portraits as well as families and friends of the deceased.
For more information, call Johansen at 385-244-7027.